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On recipe development: approach to innovation


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Thanks for taking the time to do this.

What is your process for preparing and perfecting a new recipe? Obviously, some of them originate with other people, both professional bakers and those of us not in the business. (As an aside, the notes in your new book do a particularly good job talking about the origins of, or at least the inspirations for, those recipes.) Once you get either a recipe or an inspiration, what happens from there? Do you ever just decide to make something specific and make it up as you go? How many iterations does it take to achieve what you're after? Do you ever find something that refuses to behave the way you want it to?

And what do you do with the results of all your testing? (Are your neighbors thrilled to have you nearby?) :smile:

MelissaH

MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

foodblog1 | kitchen reno | foodblog2

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Inspirations for new recipes come from all over and often at the oddest times. Sometimes, I'll be working on a writing piece and be struck by an idea for a dessert or the urge to bake something and -- on very lucky days -- I'll end up with something great. On normal days, I'll end up with something that will need another testing or two -- or three, or ...

When I'm working on a new recipe, I start on paper. I'll have an idea and I'll write out a test recipe -- essentially just the measurements and a very shorthand list of instructions. Then, when I'm in the kitchen, I'll often make changes as I go along. I'll taste a batter and think it needs something else. I'll look at the texture and decide to add another egg or more flour. I'll also take notes on the texture of the batter as it's being mixed, anything unusual about it, the quantity etc. I've never thrown out a batter before putting it in the oven, but I've tossed plenty of things once they've come out.

Once I have what I think is a good recipe, I'll write it as a "real" recipe and make it again. I've also got testers who work from my written recipes. By giving testers written recipes they get to test both the formula and the clarity of the instructions.

As for what I do with everything that I bake -- you're right -- I have very happy neighbors. I taste everything, of course. And I eat a lot of what I bake. I also keep pieces of whatever I bake so that I can test how they keep and/or freeze. But I give away a lot of stuff -- one of the nice things about being a daily baker.

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Obviously, some of them originate with other people, both professional bakers and those of us not in the business.

Pretty much everything at some point originated with other people. I believe that indeed there are really very few new things "under the sun". what is your take on Chefs copyrighting their recipes since they invented them? We had a whole big debate in the forums about this and there was a recent article in Food and Wine about it.

At what point do you feel that a recipe is truely yours as opposed to other professionals'?

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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Elie, I haven't kept up with the thread or the writings about chefs copyrighting their recipes, but I always thought that wasn't doable. What I had been told by editors and others, was that "formulas", that is a recipe's ingredient list, couldn't be copyrighted, but that the instructions, that is the "words", in a recipe were copyrightable.

It seems completely odd to me to think about copyrighting a recipe, since it would take so little for anyone who wanted to copy it to just make a minor change.

I like to think about what many chefs, Pierre Herme and Jean-Georges Vongerichten included, said to me when I asked them if they were upset when they saw other chefs copying their recipes. Both of them said essentially the same thing: No, I'm not upset -- I know I'll always have a new idea.

I agree with you that there really are not many totally new food creations. Perhaps you could say that what the chefs involved with molecular gastronomy are doing is new. It's hard to say what else is new. Much of what we enjoy is more variation than novelty. And for sure, there is nothing wrong with variation and really nothing wrong with improvement.

I don't know how to answer your query about when a recipe is truly mine as opposed to that of other professionals. I have so many recipes that I've played with over the years that I feel are mine, but are they absolutely original? Probably not. But each of them has something -- a technique, a little trick, an unusual ingredient, an unusual blend of ingredients -- that sets them apart and makes them personal.

I'd be very interested in hearing what others have to say on the quesiton of originality.

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after a certain point, there really isn't much that is purely original. i know from personal experience that i'll come up with an idea for a dessert, thinking it is fresh and new, and then go leafing through my collection of cookbooks only to see the exact idea jump out at me from a page. it could be that i'd already put that idea in my subconscious after reading that book, or it could be that i really had the idea but that it had been done before...you just can't tell.

the thing is to embrace it all. if you make something that has been done before, you can always add your signature (and by signature, i mean adjustments, garnishes, flavor changes, etc to a basic recipe) and make it yours.

and after reading this post, i realize that it is exactly what you just wrote Dorie.

how original of me... :hmmm::laugh:

can i just say, great minds think alike?!

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...

When I'm working on a new recipe, I start on paper.  I'll have an idea and I'll write out a test recipe -- essentially just the measurements and a very shorthand list of instructions.  Then, when I'm in the kitchen, I'll often make changes as I go along.  I'll taste a batter and think it needs something else.  I'll look at the texture and decide to add another egg or more flour.  I'll also take notes on the texture of the batter as it's being mixed, anything unusual about it, the quantity etc.  I've never thrown out a batter before putting it in the oven, but I've tossed plenty of things once they've come out. 

...

Dear Dorie,

It would be interesting to hear your comments on how you personally developed over time from a baker who was able to execute recipes to one who creates them.

I guess this might include your thoughts on the relative contributions that technical training, experimentation, reading, or other means provided in your development.

Did your development proceed in a methodical manner or did it develop in a less structured fashion that you did not necessarily plan or expect?

Thank you in advance for your thoughts. It is a fascinating topic for an amateur but enthusiastic baker who primarily "clings" to the recipe for dear life when dealing with the actual cake or pastry dough besides trying simple substitutions or additions.

Edited by ludja (log)

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Dorie-

To your point, it is mainly the Chefs who practice Molecular Gastronomy the ones seeking the copyright and/or patent for their recipes. Chefs like Jose Andres and Wilie Dufresne want to patent certain techniques that they developed and that makes sense.

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

My Blog
contact: enassar(AT)gmail(DOT)com

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